By Hazel Trice Edney
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has announced that its investigation following unrest in the Freddie Gray death case has revealed extreme racial discrimination by the Baltimore City Police Department (BPD). “The Justice Department announced today that it found reasonable cause to believe that the Baltimore City Police Department (BPD) engages in a pattern or practice of conduct that violates the First and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution as well as federal anti-discrimination laws,” said a DOJ statement Aug. 10.
“BPD makes stops, searches and arrests without the required justification; uses enforcement strategies that unlawfully subject African-Americans to disproportionate rates of stops, searches and arrests; uses excessive force; and retaliates against individuals for their constitutionally-protected expression. The pattern or practice results from systemic deficiencies that have persisted within BPD for many years and has exacerbated community distrust of the police, particularly in the African-American community.”
The findings were so severe that the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a Montgomery, Alabama-based anti-discrimination group and expert on racial hatred in America described the results as “damning.” Among the most egregious violations pointed out by the SPLC:
• In a 4½-year period, Baltimore police recorded more than 300,000 pedestrian stops, but only a tiny percentage led to charges. One African-American man was stopped by police 30 times – and not charged with anything.
• African-Americans were arrested on drug charges at five times the rate of White people – even though searches of White people were far more likely to find drugs.
• The blistering DOJ report leaves little doubt that these practices are rooted in racial bias.
But while there are surely some who are overtly racist, it wouldn’t be fair to lay all the blame on individual police officers. Beginning in the early 1990s, city and police leaders encouraged ‘zero tolerance’ policies that emphasized the very practices still in place today. The Baltimore-based NAACP also scrutinized the report saying it is also “damning” for American policing overall.
“We all know that over-aggressive policing that targets African-Americans is not just Baltimore’s problem. The DOJ issued similar findings about Ferguson, Missouri, after the killing of Michael Brown, which happened two years ago yesterday. It is, in fact, a deeply engrained problem across America – and part of a larger criminal justice system that has resulted in our country having the world’s highest per-capita incarceration rate,” said NAACP President Cornell William Brooks, in a release. The DOJ report comes weeks after the realization that all six officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore had been exonerated. The first three were exonerated by the judge. Baltimore Prosecutor Marilyn Mosby dropped the charges against the final three.